tips from a meat-loving vegetarian

I am a vegetarian for ethical and health reasons more than I am a vegetarian because I hate meat. Ecological problems, antibiotics and diseases, prions and shit lakes and clipping the tails off of piglets. etc. So I don’t eat meat (except for the occasional ‘happy cow’ steak, grass-fed, grass-finished, and always too well-done). But I still crave certain foods, and one of these foods is the BLT.

I’ve been experimenting every so often, looking for good bacon analogues  — not for the premise of actual bacon, but just for BLTs. (I don’t think any of these could stand up to close scrutiny without the extra elements.) The first thing that I tried was frying those tofurkey sandwich slices, with heavy seasoning. Not so great. The texture was far too even — think, if cardboard could go stale, what that would feel like to eat. The flavor wasn’t much more than a hint of ‘seasonings.’ (If I can remember, I think it went harmlessly into some otherwise-tasty scrambled eggs eaten at a friend’s house in Illinois.)

I’ve also tried slicing up and frying those Smart Hot Dogs; when I was a kid and we didn’t have bacon I would sometimes fry baloney instead. (N.B.: this actually nearly always turned out pretty gross.) The hot dogs turned out approximately the same as the fried tofurkey slices, except longer and narrower. They tasted a little more like “meat” — smokier and saltier even without heavy seasoning. Heavy seasoning just made it taste like garlic salt. (Could be operator error.)

And don’t make me laugh with your questions about the “fake-on” one can buy in the refrigerated hippie section in your community’s grocery store. I am for the most part an exuberant fan of the Morningstar Brand of fake meats for hippies; I think they are mostly the best quality of processed meat replacements on the market. However, their bacon strips are seriously the worst thing ever. Strips of microwavable salty cardboard. You can’t put those in a BLT. That would be sheer desecration.

So here’s what I did tonight and now whole-heartedly endorse: frying up thin strips of seitan.

Seitan is basically magic. It’s textured wheat gluten, and the first time I encountered it was in a vegan Asian restaurant in Boston, where I was almost convinced that what I was eating was meat. It’s best at mimicking the texture of beef and chicken, although I had a faux-duck sandwich once that was pretty incredible. I have no idea what gives it this texture, but it is similar enough that even carnivores enjoy it. (I fried up some tofu and seitan to go with a peanut satay I made a while ago, and it was one of the only experiments my father rated ‘delicious’ rather than merely ‘interesting.’)

So what you do. Is take the stuff out of the package. I bought the stuff that claims to be in “strips,” but the box lies to you: it’s mostly mashed up in “bits.” Place the bits that are most like strips onto a plate, and salt them on both sides. I used this seasoning spice that’s basically garlic powder, pepper, and salt, but I think all that’s really important from a make-this-like-bacon standpoint is the salt. Heat up some vegetable oil; fry. Place on toast with mayonnaise, tomato slices, and lettuce. Add other stuff if you’re into adulterating a pure BLT. And then give me your address so I can burn you at the stake, you heretic. (I considered both avocado and goat cheese. Could be pretty tasty.) Voilà. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to the real thing than I’ve had in years.

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